This morning this quote came through the email via Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. it’s Thich Nhat Than writing on the Christian practice of communion.
The bread that Jesus handed to you, to us, is real bread, and if you can eat real bread you have real life. But we are not able to eat real bread. We only try to eat the word bread or the notion of bread. Even when we are celebrating the Eucharist, we are still eating notions and ideas. “Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood.” Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up? What could Jesus have said that is better than that? You have been eating ideas and notions, and I want you to eat real bread so that you become alive. If you come back to the present moment, fully alive, you will realize this is real bread, this piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos.
If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive. . . . Eat in such a way that the Holy Spirit becomes an energy within you and then the piece of bread that Jesus gives to you will stop being an idea, a notion.Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999), 106–107.
I love that. It reminds me of the power of acknowledging the simple and everyday sacred with a simple and everyday ritual. It uses a mindful practice to raise the ordinary to the sacred.
About seven years ago I was working at a conference called Awakening Soul as a facilitator and as a poet who captured the keynote presentations and the harvests from the world cafes I was leading. One of the speakers was John Phillip Newell, a prolific writer on Celtic Christianity informed by his time as warden of the monastery on Iona in the Hebrides.
His keynote contained a similar idea to Thay’s about the Eucharist. He spoke about the cosmology of matter and meaningfulness. He said that the bread in the Eucharist stood in for “the matter that matters.” Somehow in the dance of speaker and poet we also added that the wine is about the spirit that flows. The matter that matters and the spirit that flows. A simple ritual used to acknowledge the profound meaning of Jesus being together with his dearest friends on the last night of his life. If you have been with a dying person or in a situation like that you know the feeling of that moment. Only at birth and death does one experience it.
Later that night Newell and me and five other people all found ourselves talking around a dining table in our shared accommodation. We got on to telling the birth stories of our children and as the night deepened, the stories became more and more profound. Not all the stories were good news One was about a still birth. Others were funny like the way Caitlin gripped my knees so hard that the two of us were screaming in different kinds of pain when our son was born, much to the midwife’s amusement.
It was late in the night when our circle of stories drew to a close but before we all went to bed I suggested that we mark the end of this very sacred experience with a small communion. All we had was a bottle of Laphroaig whisky and a bar of Bowen Island chocolate. And so we passed these two elements to each other offering the simple blessing: this is the matter that matters and this is the spirit that flows. And it truly transformed our little gathering into something quite sacred.
Today I stood on the beach you see in the photo above, in a very isolated and sacred place on the south flank of Haleakala on Mau’i. It is a place where the first Hawaiians arrived on this island, a black cobble beach with incredible waves and the stunning 8000 foot high flank of the volcano behind. And as I stood there I felt my father very strongly. He sailed in these waters as a naval officer in the 1950s and he knew the power of the simple and transcendent. He knew deep in his bones about the communion that I am talking about. he knew to take time to stop and acknowledge it. That knowledge served him well in his death back in December and it has served me well in my grief journey since then.
And it served me well today, remembering in a simple act that “this is the matter that matters, and this is the spirit that flows.” That little prayer is your gateway to remembering that you belong to the cosmos.
Beautiful reflection. Thanks. I am retired now but still occasionally lead worship services & offer communion. My understanding and interpretation is like Thay’s and yours expressed here and I point to the sacredness of the ‘ordinary’ things that sustain us.
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing Chris
Love you brother. Thank you for your poetic remembering.
This text is really awesome! Thank you very much for this piece of poetry and inspiration.
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